Statistics show that high heels are one of the biggest factors leading to foot problems in women, with up to a third suffering permanent problems as a result of prolonged wear.
Why high heels can cause a problem
When you wear high heels (shoes with a heel two inches or higher), your foot slides forward in your shoe, forcing the toes into the unnatural shape of the shoe and redistributing your weight incorrectly. The increased weight on your toes causes your body to tilt forward, and to compensate, you lean backwards and overarch your back, creating a posture that can strain your knees, hips, and lower back. The change to the position of your spine puts pressure on nerves in the back and can cause sciatica, a condition where nerves become trapped, triggering pain and numbness as far down as the feet.
There are other effects, too. Over time, wearing high heels can shorten the muscles in your calves and in your back, leading to pain and muscle spasms. Many women who wear high heels often suffer a shortening of the Achilles tendon, because once the heel is pointed upwards, it tightens up. Stretching it again or switching to flats can be very painful. It can even lead to plantar fasciitis.
All this doesn’t mean you have to give up wearing heels. But, to minimise the chance of injury over time, you are advised to:
- Select shoes with low heels - an inch and a half or less - and a wide heel base; a slightly thicker heel will spread the load more evenly. Narrow, stiletto-type heels provide little support and three inch or higher heels may shorten the Achilles tendon.
- Wear soft insoles to reduce the impact on your knees.
- Make sure your shoes are the right size so the foot doesn't slide forward, putting even more pressure on the toes.
- Wear heels on days that require limited walking or standing.
- Alternate your shoe choice throughout the day or from one day to the next. Don't wear your high heels all day; and wear more comfortable shoes, such as athletic or walking shoes for commuting to and from work.
- Stretch. Take time every day to stretch your calf muscles and feet.